HK visitors up 9pc in first half, and mainlanders lead the charge Post headline, July 1 Let's deal first with that bit about mainlanders leading the charge. They are leading it indeed, straight to Macau, which took in almost nine million of them in the first six months, up 25 per cent from the previous year. We in Hong Kong, meanwhile, are left to crow that we had 7.7 million visitors from the mainland in the first six months, up 11.2 per cent from the previous year, which, I am obliged to tell you, someone in our shop decided to label as 'Bumper numbers'. It may also interest you to know that although mainlanders account for about 55 per cent of total visitors to Hong Kong, this is about what the figure has been for the last four years. Leading the charge, you know - Forward, into the breach! Attack! Banzai! Geronimo! It may further interest you to know that Macau is also ahead of us on total visitor arrivals. We had more than 14 million of them in the first half. Macau had more than 15 million. Our year-on-year growth rate of total visitor arrivals is 9.1 per cent. Macau's is twice that figure. Don't ask me why they go. My wife and I went three weeks ago and it's ugly. We were only grateful that they hadn't completely destroyed Coloanne, Barra and the Leal Senado yet but get yourself a set of blinkers if you travel down the Cotai Strip. Enough of Macau. My concern today is more with the way that our tourism boosters like to puff up their data so that they can put the squeeze on us for more public funds to help boost their private profit and loss accounts. They do it all for the good of Hong Kong alone, you understand. Look at the red line in the chart. Although the highest line there, it tells you immediately that the news isn't really that good on tourist arrivals. The 9.1 per cent growth in arrivals for the first six months is actually down from an equivalent 16.6 per cent in January. Last year was an up year. This year looks to be a down year. But there is more to take into account. What matters is not only whether visitors come but how long they stay. If a visitor pokes his nose outside the airport and the air pollution makes him take the next plane home, he doesn't really do much for us, at least not compared with someone who checks into a hotel and stays two weeks (I know someone who did that once. Odd fellow). Length of stay is critical and the average length-of-stay figures, published on an annual basis, say it has dropped steadily from 4.06 nights in 2003 to 3.28 nights last year. I don't know why this has happened but I suppose more people are squeezing a visit to Macau into their Hong Kong itinerary. Whatever the case, if you adjust the arrival figures for a declining length of stay, you get the blue line on the chart. I have assumed in the stippled part of the blue line that the average length of stay this year has continued to decline at the same pace it has declined over the previous four years. This brings the 9.1 per cent growth rate for visitor arrivals down to 3.35 per cent for the first six months and we're not finished yet. These length-of-stay figures apply only to visitors who stay at least one night. They exclude visitors who leave on the same day they come, in other words border hoppers from across the Pearl River Delta. And here's the catch. The big growth in visitor arrivals has been in these same-day visitors. On an annualised basis they now account for 40.3 per cent of the total and this is up from 38.2 per cent a year ago, which may not seem much at first but is actually quite a big leap. It's the overnight visitors who really matter, however. They comprise only 60 per cent of total visitor arrivals but they account for 87 per cent of the spending. So now let's take only overnight visitors, adjust their arrival numbers by their average length of stay, assume that the length of stay has continued to decline this year at the same pace it has declined over the last four years and you get the green line on the chart. Uh-huh, it's negative. That's what you call bumper numbers, you see. They bumped into something and went the other way. But do you think the Tourism Board would ever willingly let you in on this piece of news? How trusting of you. Be sure to tell your fairy godmother so.